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For DC locos - from the NMRA standards & all model locos normally follow this

Positive potential applied to the right hand rail shall produce forward motion

The term "right hand rail" as used herein means the rail to the right of the observer standing between the rails with their back to the front of the locomotive.

In a good wired layout, direction control usually would be a centre off switch that can go left or right, so the direction switch is a good indicator of which way the loco will go.

DCC of course is different - direction is determined by the direction the front of the loco is facing - in steam, the smokebox is always forward.
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